Enid Dame, Poet: Woman’s First Breath

enid1 from internet

Enid Dame (1943-2003) was an upbeat Post-Beat feminist poet. Her satire lacked the cynicism that defeats its purpose, and her good-humored,  tongue-in-cheek sensibility made her work unique. Her poetry often brought Biblical characters, especially women, to life.    

Her poem, Lilith, showcases her humor and spirit. When she read it with her Brooklyn accent the effect was effervescent. One reviewer said of her book, On the Road to Damascus, Maryland, that it was “a book of illuminations, conversions, and the hauntingly contemporary voices of Biblical heroines.”

For 25 years, with her husband, the poet Donald Lev, Enid published Home Planet News, the voice of taxi driver and worker poets, road poets and café poets, and multi-everything poets. The duo ran the late night readings in the 1970s at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village with just the right mix of order and disorder. A long polished bar and chairs and tables glittered beneath the plate glass sky roof and windows on the street gave the place a dark glamorous look. It was legendary as a watering hole in the 1950s and 1960s for Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac and other Beat poets, along with Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol and other modern artists.

Enid taught composition at the New Jersey Institute of Technology and creative writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey.  She was a scholar of Jewish women’s poetry and midrashic writing, lecturing at the Institute for Contemporary Midrash, for the Religious Diversity Seminars of the New Jersey Council for the Humanities. She co-edited the anthology Which Lilith?: Feminist Writers Re-Create the World’s First Woman (1998). Enid had seven volumes of poetry published, including Riding the D Train, Lilith, Lilith’s New Career, and Anything You Don’t See.

But what I remember most about her was her smile, her generosity, her passionate, amiable courage, as well as her intelligent, insightful poetry. 

Enid Dame on Wikipedia

More about Enid Dame on Rain Taxi

Enid Dame Reads Lilith (1989)

Interview with Enid Dame and Donald Lev

Home Planet News Marathon Reading Flyer

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Memories are Fossils

WalkAway

Memories are fossils, she said,

And left him on the strand

The carnival was whirling around

Food, family and dancing

On the Day of the Dead

He walked to the sand

And ran for miles, apocalypso miles,

Tumbling down to the exposed bone,

Curving bone that rims the sea

And there memory came as a tsunami

And all the fossils on the shore

Were particles of I;

After love has swept by,

Memories are fossils and I

The Old Man Sings

Sea Grapes Jetty Park
(You may sing this as a round)

Over sand flats the Old Man raves
sunlight cresting on waves
the truth is out along the borders
roving the island seeking new quarters
full of unrest, full of solace

A twisted morass bars his way
black thistle, buckthorn, and palm
rife with full-throated glory songs
roam above his outstretched arms
full of unrest, full of solace

Plundering triumphant cries of raptors
rhapsody of warblers and wrens
weave around him as he traces
the hammock’s periphery in rapture
full of unrest, full of solace

From the magic circle the echo
of a willet’s scream: will it, will it
and the royal terns’ call to arms
lure him into the echo of time
full of unrest, full of solace

The Old Man cups his ears to capture
the final alarm, the eternal song
a siren call of infinite pathos
in the flooding and the flowing out
full of life, full of death

Branches scrape above him adagio
but there is no way into, no path
through the mystifying terrain
until he cries out in a crescendo
full of death, full of life

Copyright 1998 by Mary Clark

The original poem appeared in Waterways magazine, Vol. 30, No. 11, May 2010; and Jimson Weed, Volume 30, New Series Vol. 14, No. 2, Fall 2011. In this version, the ending has been slightly revised.

Children of the Moon, Chapter 12: Solitude

To begin reading Children of the Moon, see the Prologue.

Laurel visited her grandmother:
Why didn’t I go with him that day?
Grandma Wing waved her hand:
How could you know what would happen?
But, Laurel said: I can’t help him.

The old woman snapped back:
Stand by him if you believe he’s innocent,
and you can overcome this;
you are farther rooted in the source
of all things than you can ever imagine.

Grandma Wing gives her a letter:
Your mother wrote this poem when young;
she called it “Sowing The Field.”

Bands of wheat fields flow gold and red
on a low road where clouds sweep overhead;
I walk among mountains steep and high
to catch spear-stalks of wheat as they fly

Reaching I grasp fleet arrows of wheat
as day yields to low clouds gold and red;
I watch each seed as it falls to my feet
through the reaping beat of my hands

Will wondered, too, why few believed
in his brother’s innocence;
he felt betrayed by friends and neighbors;
only a few said Sandy was the last person
they thought capable of violence

With most the rumors went viral:
he was always so quiet, so polite,
they had been fooled, or he was odd,
often alone, walking about
in a world of his own

Morris Rubra investigated and found:
There have been other incidents in the area,
and even several deaths that are unsolved.

In the ensuing hysteria the trial began;
Sandy’s guileless demeanor isolated him
and alienated the jury and the press;
he asked Morris Rubra if he seemed arrogant;
the lawyer replied: You appear to be too innocent.

With his family and handful of friends
in the courtroom, the judge sentenced Sandy
to prison; he turned to look at his parents:
his father’s face was granite,
his mother’s expression a frieze of grief

Morris Rubra began his appeal:
Never give in to despair,
I’ll do everything I can to see you free again.

A prison guard greeted him:
I have more respect for a man who comes clean
than one like you who never owns up.

You’re a coward, the guard said,
and probably feel like a genius
for getting away with other killings;
we know we’re putting an end to a lot
of suffering if we put an end to you.

The moon’s pale engravings on the cell wall
wove a pattern of loss and sorrow
as the knowledge of evil streamed in,
and this revelation caused the greatest pain
of all, and Sandy wept for the human condition

Not far away, in another town, a man
only a few years older than Sandy,
was arrested for the murder of a teen-aged girl;
he was convicted, sentenced to life in prison
and brought to a cell next to Sandy’s

He watched Sandy suffer with pleasure:
in a corrupt world there was no justice,
he thought in gratification of his cynicism;
better to embrace the chaos
and take whatever you can.

Blanca Cors recovered from her injuries
but was unable to identify her attacker;
Will’s anger erupted with Morris Rubra:
I can’t help my brother, or save him,
and I hate everybody who’s turned against him.

The older man counseled him:
Don’t let this make you bitter,
or lose your trust in people.

The wind in the pines was a fugue,
and in the sky and river a tomblike gloom;
Mira tried in vain to comfort Will,
and Morris Rubra to give him hope,
but Will was inconsolable

When Will fled to the coastal solitude
of Casey Key, he found brief respite;
on the beach he saw a group of teens his age,
threatening to rupture the amniotic sac
of light and wind that enwombed him

They waved to him, and he recognized each
one just as they closed in,
casting tall shadows on the sand;
the Gulf galloped over rocks and moss
glistened like sweat on horses’ flanks

Voices broke the hypnotic pulse of surf,
reverberating around him
and riding roughshod into his brain:
Hey, Will. We’re going to the rodeo.
Are you?

He tried to smile:
Yes, I’m coming to the rodeo; I’ll be there;
he knew he should be grateful for their loyalty,
for their attempted normalcy,
but these people belonged to a past illusion

Will told his father and added, my world
before god turned away;
his father threw up his hands: God?
We people bind our innocence in fear and lies,
and trot out the worst in ourselves with pride.

But doesn’t god give us that ability?
His father reflected a moment:
It doesn’t mean we have to use or develop it;
we can be the way Sandy is, so much like my parents,
and your grandparents, in kindness and humility

They were such good people, so decent
it makes me cry to remember them,
and they not only existed — they flourished.

Will was no longer listening;
his grandparents were killed in a highway accident,
on their way home from visiting the family;
there was no justice, no reward for being good,
and happiness was an illusion

Will dropped out of school, taking odd jobs
and one day hit the road; he was riding through
the Everglades when the moon’s sudden reflection
in a pond fired off a thought;
the marsh whisked by and the thought was lost

Children of the Moon, Chapter 6: Renegade

Black snakes lounged on jalousie windows
dozing until evening to dine
on the raucous chir-chirr-chir-ring tree frogs

Mira worked with her father in the garden
sunlight flying down in soft arrows,
imbedding in the flesh of the air

Heat murmured, a murmur she heard
near the ground among marigolds and lilies
and her father’s favorite roses

She listened for her white and brown terrier:
Solis, he might be hurt;
she looked around: Or lost in the woods;
Him? her father replies, Lost?
Never.

Mira weeded among the light green leaves
and aromatic white clusters of shell ginger,
and Solis trotted through the side yard

He passed white-eyed purple bougainvillea;
a multicolored jewel necklace hanging
from his jaws

Dropping it at her side he waited for praise;
What is that? her father jumped to his feet
A coral snake, Mira said;
Not likely, her father looked closer:
Oh, it is.

A metallic whirring caught their attention
as a mosquito truck rolled down the street,
fog coursing from its sprayers

Sprinting into the house, Mira called Solis
and he followed; her sisters and brothers
already closing all the windows and doors

Setting off in the morning, carrying penknives,
canteens and mess kits, Mira, Will, Laurel
and Sandy followed an asphalt road;
waves of heat created mirages of lakes
always ahead on the black adhesive strip

Sandy showed them coins of tar
on the soles of his sneakers
and they passed a great blue heron
lying by the side of the road, glistening
feathers dulled by dust and dried blood

Crossing a roadside ditch, they each
left a footprint in the crusted mud to mark
where they entered the woods

An indigo snake scaled the parched lips
of the ditch, seeking shelter in the grass;
bright yellow mullein flowers shocked
the evergreen and palmetto
in dashes of sunlight and dots of shade

Mira suggested: Let’s go to the fire tower;
and they pounded down paths
through sand blackberry

The palmettos thinned out, fan-like leaves
theatrical against the backdrop of sand-plain;
in a scattering of scrub pine, some lower branches
drying and barren of needles,
they scanned for fossils

Climbing to the top of the fire tower
they surveyed a thickening web of forest;
an eagle picked up from the horizon
and as it spiraled above them
they lifted their eyes to its broad level wings

A path ran back into the forest
and along the way, they found seed pods
and wild raspberries; quartered light fell
on deep-green nightshade
and blue dusky palmetto

At noon, they rested on cool layers
of pine needles and shared their food
as the needles glowed russet-gold

Sandy said: I would like to live in a log cabin
far out in the woods with a friend or two;
you can make everything, grow your own food.

Mira said: I’ve thought about living on my own;
and visualized her grandmother’s people:
That’s what Seminole means:
Breaking away. Renegade. To me
it means free.

To read Children of the Moon: The Prologue, click here

You can follow the links from there at the bottom of each chapter’s page.

Children of the Moon, Chapter 5: Refuge

bassroadSandy pushed aside saplings to reveal
a deer’s nest-like home;
Laurel ran her hands across fawn-soft,
red feathered grasses
and blackberries jetted in waves from the earth

A box turtle feasted on the berries,
leathery neck stretched out to reach
the lowest clustered branches

Laurel and Sandy picked berries,
washing them in a stream, and Laurel said:
I want to take all of them home.
My aunt is learning to cook Southern food;
she’s enchanted with the Florida lifestyle.

Sandy took off his shirt: Here, use this;
and they laughed as they wrapped the fruit;
Laurel led him across her lawn: Come with me;
but placing a hand on his bare chest,
Sandy hesitated

Laurel smiled at him: They won’t mind.
A woman flashed to the door, a platinum blonde
in frosty make up: Come in. Look at this.
She held a carrot-colored concoction:
Sweet potato casserole.

This is Sandy, Aunt Ida, Laurel said,
and she placed the shirt-wrapped fruit and berries
on the kitchen counter; Aunt Ida ran her hands
through Laurel’s unruly hair: Thank god
your grandmother thought of us.

Laurel and Sandy sat on the screen porch;
My mother died, and my father wasn’t able
to take care of me, she told Sandy;
Grandma Wing came up to get me,
and now my aunt and uncle have custody.

Mira’s home was suspended in a wave of light,
the tar paper roof sizzled and bubbled into blisters;
her father revved up the jeep:
We’re going to see your grandmother,
I want you to meet her.

In Fort Myers, they drove by parades of royal palms
and white bands of sidewalks on broad avenues,
date palms and flowering spires of yucca,
scalloped emerald lawns of St. Augustine grass,
and the winter palaces of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford

Her father looked grim: Fort Myers was born in the heat
of the Seminole Wars, in a garrison town
on the south bank of the Caloosahatchee River

Ponce de León landed on an island near here;
the Calusa were waiting and fought the Spanish,
sending them back to Puerto Rico;
Mira studied his face: So that was it?
He went on quietly: That was just the beginning

Ponce de León sailed to Spain to seek
permission to conquer Florida;
he returned with more soldiers,
the Calusa watched until they began to build villages
and then they attacked

Ponce de León was wounded by an arrow
and sailed away to Cuba
where he died a few days later

And that was the beginning and the end;
the Calusa were killed by war and disease;
years later the Seminoles came to this place.

In the 1830s and 40s, Mira’s father continued,
the federal government built a ring of forts
around the last of the Seminoles

The soldiers destroyed villages, killing many
and capturing women and children,
sending them to the hills of Oklahoma

One day, a hurricane drove the army
from the Caloosahatchee, but local people
were encouraged to ignore the treaty
and to move into Seminole territory;
soldiers retired and stayed on

Cattle ranching began to grow
and ranchers brought beef into port
at Punta Rassa; in the early 1900s the rich
began to build mansions
and snowbirds found a winter haven.

Mira smiled:
But in reality
we are still here.

When Mira came face to face
with her grandmother, she sat by her father
in the shade of sprawling live oaks
dipping into the mirror of a lake
creating a tranquil but lively darkness

The old woman said softly:
I cannot shelter everyone
but for many my sanctuary is lasting;
I place my roots in the earth
and rise graceful and wide;
my hands sing in the wind
as I embrace the air, birds fly from my hair,
and rain makes me stronger;
I am alive in all seasons;
my head rises high, but my roots
grow deep into the grain

To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue, click here
From there, you’ll be able to read the next chapter and so on.

To read Children of the Moon, Chapter 6: Renegade, click here

Illustration by Forrest S. Clark

Children of the Moon, Chapter 4: Flight Path

Sandy watched a brightly-decorated train
trundle by, carrying circus animals;
a slow-moving wave of tigers, lions, elephants,
camels, llamas and horses, painted vividly
on the cars; as if a dream passing by

After the fanciful caboose cleared the crossing,
he was surprised to see a girl his age
magically appear on the other side;
he walked over the tracks to her:
I’m Sandy. Are you new here?

Laurel Wing, the girl answered;
and in her hair Sandy saw the fire of red maples,
in her skin white birch, and in her eyes
blue delphinium:
Where were you going now?

Laurel replied, I am new here
and I’m just walking around
to see where I am.

He indicated the way: There’s a town
with a store, a gas station, and a school;
and when she hesitated to follow him,
he said: Okay, then
and started off on his own

Wait, she asked and he turned back around;
Can we just stay around here?
They don’t want me to go too far,
I’m living with my aunt and uncle;
and she pointed toward the home

Sandy checked the sky: Gonna rain;
when they began to walk together a short way,
Laurel kept her distance:
I’m from the hills of Tennessee, she told him,
and I feel like I’ve lost my boundaries.

She recalled a land of ups and downs:
attics and cellars, and mountains smoldering
with bursts of redbud, dogwood and mountain laurel;
and Sandy could see when he looked into her eyes
all of this landscape

Sandy and Laurel and Will and Mira
visited Shadow and traveled to and from school;
they were the three, really, four Musketeers

Crossing a field by a stand of pines one day
Mira jumped aside, and Laurel and the boys
slid to a stop, all eyes riveted to a coiled rattler
camouflaged behind a delicate fringe
of Indian coontie and saw palmetto

The snake wavered in limbo between attack
and staying close to her tiny young
winding around one another,
inspecting the edge of the nest;
Mira stepped back and the snake veered away

In the field where a line of pines jutted into sky
a bald eagle, blue black wings, white head
and a quiver of white tail feathers,
gripped a branch with large yellow talons
watching them with hooded eyes

A huge nest floated in the tallest pine
below a widespread canopy
by the edge of a burnished auburn field

The eagle spread its wings, swooping down
over the field, white and black feathers shining;
they watched it soar up to fly toward the river;
Laurel asked Mira: How do you say eagle in Spanish?
and Mira told her: Aguila.

Evening came, and in a dream
Laurel led a group into the wilderness
to look for eagles

As time passed without a sighting,
many were discouraged, but as they were walking
the ground began to tremble:
and Laurel sensed the eagles’ beating wings
triggered the rumbling in the land

The group moved forward again
and the trembling grew until it seemed the earth
would break open

Let’s go on, Laurel implored them:
The eagles have promised they will come;
the promise was in the land, the sky and the dream

Coming onto a plateau with views in every direction,
the group saw a solitary eagle rise from the horizon,
flying in an elliptical arc, in the eternal present

The eagles coasted across the sky filling their sight,
one after another in a dance of flight:
they changed formations and patterns
like semaphores
and transformed into a multitude of colors

The rumbling in the earth grew louder
and some of the group ran from the field;
the earth cracked open across their path;
Laurel and the others heard their cries
as they stood on the brink

Laurel and her group raced toward them, hoping
all could jump across before the chasm was too wide;
but with a roar a wide canyon opened its mouth;
the explorers huddled at the divide:
How do we get back home? Will we survive?

In slow motion one by one they were in the air
and Laurel saw them land on the far side;
she was unsure if they were flying on their own
or being lifted by the eagles,
when she felt herself take flight

At her home, Mira rose from dreams of sailing,
and when she opened the door, the sky
flew away like a wing

She dressed in second-hand clothes
and hearing her mother move about escaped
to the yard to watch her father leave the house,
pulling up his collar to ward off the storm
following at its own pace, sure of its power

After Kissing Mira on the forehead
Mr. Apaksi jumped into his battered jeep;
a cloud of dust curled across the yard

As he sped away, there was a change
from one level of quiet to another,
a shift of light as the heat creaked
and fluttered, lifting and falling,
like a sail in a fitful breeze

All the plants, trees and grass
gave off a heavy stifling aroma,
lingering like the smoke of gun blasts

Mira followed a road around the swamp
and she heard Will’s voice as she approached
the boy’s rambling ranch home,
where giant branches of live oaks touched down
and then soared up again into new trees

After lunch, Will led a stallion into the corral,
and swung into the saddle;
Sandy sat on the fence as ranch hands gathered;
Watch this, Will said to Mira
and the crowd along the fence began to murmur

The chestnut horse stood eerily at an angle,
head tilted back; in the bat of an eye
the horse rocketed off the ground,
back arched, suspended in air,
sun-fishing into the sky

The stallion came down without its rider;
Will, arms out-flung, plunged down;
teeth chattering, stars wheeling in his eyes;
he struggled to his feet, hands covered in dirt
and blood, transfixed by the clarity of the world

Will and Sandy’s mother, a champion rider
promptly ended the impromptu rodeo,
taking Will inside for first aid
while Sandy walked the horse to the stable
to brush him down

In the golden hour Mira loped home;
twilight winked and in a blink of her eye
the sun was gone

Mira ran along the railroad tracks,
her feet landing squarely on the wooden ties:
in the darkness, she could not see
where she was going,
she just knew

To read Children of the Moon, The Prologue click here
You can read the first three chapters from there.

Children of the Moon Chapter 2 Shadow

reedysmallAs Will came near an apparition unfolded
into a gaunt figure whose face was pale,
his eyes black holes, hair billows of smoke,
his voice a storm as he spoke: And you wonder
how I came to be this troll beneath a tree.

Will moved toward the specter to ask
questions on his mind for some time:
What happened to you? Why are you alone?
With no place to live, no friends
and no family?

Shadow moved toward Will:
I will tell you as I told your brother:
I heard a call when I was young
when I was walking near a swamp;
I thought it was a signal of distress

What it was and where it came from
I have never known, and as I searched
for the source, I became unhinged;
wraiths danced before me, moss streamed
down from trees, sweat poured from me like rain

I lost my way and shouted:
Where are you? I wandered deeper in;
the cry came again:
I felt alone, and bewildered I lashed out
in anger and fear

I ran and came to a rundown home,
windows shuttered, but at the front door
a man stood as if waiting for me

This man pointed to the moon and said:
The sun is bright today. And look,
the children play!

I shivered but still approached him:
Tell me who you are;
the man laughed and replied:
I’m the door at the gate
and I await the hinge.

Will stumbled back, trembling,
wanting to escape the vision;
but Shadow was unrelenting:
the man screamed and pulled a knife
stabbing at unseen demons

I turned to leave, but he caught me;
and so we wrestled:
the child and the man

I saw him pitch full length at my feet
and his face staring, helpless:
in his panic he had wounded himself;
I watched his blood mingle with the mud
and I moved away, I tried to run

But back I came to watch the life flood
from him, until this ancient man of men
was no more than a form limned in the dust.

Shadow gathered himself together:
I hurled the blade away;
Will swayed, almost losing his balance

Shadow’s expression switched from terror
to amazement as he said:
I put my hand to my mouth and felt a claw;
looking down I saw I was
a man deformed.

Will cried: But your family, didn’t they look for you?
Shadow blinked: The pain I felt was blinding;
my family mourned the loss of their child,
not knowing I still lived, mocked and feared by all
and trapped in a state of decay.

Will felt Shadow’s terrible secret fade: I’m sorry;
but Shadow raised his voice: Don’t be.
I began my journey before I knew myself
and for that reason spent years
wandering in the wilderness.

Will stood beside Shadow:
Can’t you start over?
Shadow laughed: You are young!
He bowed his head: Once I knew I was capable
of terrible things I sentenced myself to this lonely place.

Will offered: I’ll give you a new name;
Shadow fell silent, and his face was bleak,
but Will saw a momentary spark
in his eyes, before he returned to his shelter
in the trees

To read The Prologue click here
To read Chapter 1 click here

Children of the Moon, The Prologue

Children of the Moon

A Poetry Novel

This is a work in progress.

 

Evening comes,
………a night of birth,
and from the cocoon of morning,
………children bloom,
winged children

Children of the Moon

Will, blown in night winds into meadows soaked with dew
grew deep-rooted, a new seed maturing in rains;
Sandy, light and elemental as fine grains of shell and stone,
was fleet-footed, tawny and sleek as a Florida panther:
together they were one bone, one sinew,
original brothers by the river, explorers of the stream

Laurel’s long limbs were on solid ground, embracing
fire and water, sashaying with the wind;
within Mira unrolled an infinite plain and a winding river;
from amber springs flowed endurance and abundance
feeding gardens of eternal life
from which they were never banned

In time, through time, beyond time
they become matter, dark matter,
liquid, vapor, fire and pure energy,
connected by whatever it is that arranges things
to the other force-field wrapped, rapt
raptured beings around them

Children of the Moon is a novel in verse, or poetry novel. It is a prequel to Children of Light, published by BardPress/Ten Penny Players.

Copyright by Mary Clark 2005 (some parts copyrighted in a previous publication, The Sailor Circus, in 1974).

Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey through Hell’s Kitchen (Part 1)

In this “docu-memoir” I re-collect my first years in the midtown neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen (officially as Clinton). In the beginning I worked at St. Clement’s Church in the theater and poetry program as a volunteer. Later I ran the Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s, begun by poet and small press publisher Richard Spiegel a year or so before my arrival. From 1978 to 1983 the Poetry Festival was a great part of my life, as it still is: something we come to know as we grow older is that the past is always part of the present. Many poets, actors, and other artists appeared in PoFest productions. While I was working at the church, I came to know some of the neighbors and began attending local group meetings. Into The Fire is the story of how I found a place to call home.

This is an excerpt from Into The Fire, Part 1: 1978-1979

Upstairs in St. Clement’s sanctuary’s vast open space, rows of tall arched windows resembled trees, and their stained glass mosaics formed branches, flowers and leaves. The peaked roof with hewn beams two stories high was Noah’s Ark come to rest upside down on Manhattan Island, filled with seminal winds and sounds of the flood.

A red carpet on the stairs and in the offices was worn but still warmed to the glow from the windows’ mosaics. These mosaics were not primary colors and depictions of saints or scenes from the Bible, but Longfellow’s forest primeval—lichen green on fallen trees, earthy orange, and clouds streaking into blue.

Watty Strouss, a member of the church’s Board of Managers, said, “Oh, they’re actually not stained glass. They’re leaded glass.”

“There’s beauty under the grime.”

“We’d like to restore them, but it’s very expensive. Each piece needs to be cleaned and re-set with new binding.”

A heavy wire mesh covered all the street-front windows, crisscrossing the muted mosaics. The protective mesh made the church look almost medieval.

“Oh,” Watty said, the word “oh” a major part of his vocabulary and depending on the inflection, having different meanings like the Chinese language. “Someone didn’t like our being an anti-war church and threw a Molotov cocktail through an upstairs window.”

In the 1960s, he told me, Joan Baez was married in the church. Later she referred to it as “that funky little peace church on the West Side.” Watty sighed. “She couldn’t remember our name.”

The upstairs space was both the Sanctuary where services were held and a theater. In the 1960s it had been remodeled to accommodate the American Place Theater. After American Place left for new digs in the basement of a high-rise on West 46th between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, another Theater at St. Clement’s was born. That incarnation had a good run, but collapsed amid questions of missing funds. The current Theater at St. Clement’s started in the early 1970s and operated in the downstairs space, which was also called the downstairs theater.

The church’s main income came from renting the Upstairs Space to outside theater groups. Every Sunday church services were held onstage, making use of the current play’s set to match the sermon’s theme. Vestry members with corduroy jeans beneath their robes rolled out the altar and pulpit and lowered a large crystal cross from its station in the light grid high in the beams.

So, the Upstairs Space had several names as well, depending on its current use and who was using it: the Upstairs Space, the Sanctuary, and the Upstairs Theater.

Alone at the massive gray metal desk in the front office I heard sounds in the church: voices, stories, pieces of song, wind in the sanctuary, birds in the oak tree, the organist practicing hymns, tales of the flower fund and the trust for burying the poor.

From where I stood on the church steps, I could see lines of tenements come riding out of the setting sun, full-tilt railroad flats roaring toward midtown Manhattan. Skyscrapers rose in Pyrrhic tower after tower, the Hudson River sang through the streets of its power; scarlet mist filled the air, diffusing over playgrounds and bars, vacant lots, delis, schools and cars. Fire escapes flared the red of steel mill fires, and flames slashed across tenement faces.

I walked into the street:

This is the fire, this is the glow
as flames rise in the core,
heat rises ethereal, takes on new forms,
along fire escapes: angels, angels

walking on ladders of flame